Katie Whaley, Music Coordinator

Katie is a young choral conductor and full time Music Coordinator at the University of Reading. 

Katie gained advanced qualifications in voice, clarinet, flute, and saxophone at school, and continued her clarinet studies at the University of Reading where she graduated with a degree in Primary Education with Music Specialism in 2016. In 2015, Katie founded and directed her first choir through the Music Society, in addition to directing several woodwind ensembles. She later became President of the Music Society and a founding member of a cappella quintet, Perfect Fifth, the 2015-16 Ensemble in Residence. In recent years, Katie has directed local a cappella group, Readiophonics, and the University staff choir, Campus Voices. Katie undertook initial conducting training as part of her degree and continues her professional development through Sing for Pleasure and NYCoS.

What has been the worst or most memorable thing that has happened during a performance?

This is going to sound like a humblebrag, but it’s 100% my most memorable story relating to a performance. Whilst I was at school, so I was probably around 15, I worked at a Saturday morning performing arts school, and we were putting on a showcase performance of musical theatre songs which included a Sound of Music medley. The teacher and I had asked the company to provide one of their professionals to play Maria on the night, and we’d been assured that everything was arranged for someone to play the role. I arrived for the dress rehearsal and was watching from the wings as the children did their rendition of Do a Deer when the team asked who was singing Maria. They proceeded to stare blankly back at me when I said surely they knew who their own soloist was, and it turned out that they’d forgotten to ask someone to do it. There was one solo at the beginning of the medley (Climb Every Mountain) which I agreed to sing, since there wasn’t really an alternative other than cutting the entire section. The performance came far too quickly, and I stood in the wings waiting for my entrance when they started the track…which had a completely different introduction than the one we had been rehearsing to for the last three months. I’ve never been more terrified as I tried to work out when I was supposed to walk on to stage and when to start singing, but it all worked out in the end and my family have always been kind enough to pretend that they hadn’t noticed anything amiss!

Who is your musical inspiration?

I once answered Bach to this question in an interview, having not listened to any Bach at all for years beforehand and then had to scrabble around to try and make conversation about how much I enjoyed his piano sonatas with absolutely no idea what I was talking about. I was trying to think of particular musicians that inspire me, but really I am inspired every time I work with a group of singers and it goes well! Their energy and positivity inspires me to think what can I do next, how do I achieve that feeling in the room every time I teach – and if it wasn’t there, what did I not do that could have made the difference.

Why do you perform and teach?

It’s an intangible feeling of achievement both personally and there is just something about the energy of live performance that makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Which instrument do you wish you had learned?

I wish I had learned piano properly as a child, I had lessons when I was six or seven but apparently I didn’t practice so my parents stopped the lessons until I could prove I would dedicate myself properly and by then I had decided that flutes were much shinier so never picked it back up again.

What musical advice would you give to your younger self?

Learn your scales and arpeggios, and go in search of ways that make theory interesting to learn – but equally, I now have a great understanding of what it’s like to not understand the depths of theory because I have been there struggling to understand it as an adult.

What musical moment are you most proud of?

Probably any given moment with Perfect Fifth, the a cappella quintet I co-directed at University for the Ensemble in Residence scheme, so many amazing moments including performing at the House of Lords, lots of 90th Anniversary events for the University, and the choral gala at Reading Town Hall which was probably the biggest audience we performed to! 

Which three words describe you as a musician?

Bubbly, Welcoming, Patient

What is your favourite memory of working with Music at Reading?

Directing Campus Voices, Jazz Sounds, and Signature Sounds performing Let It Snow at A Hollywood Christmas, it was so much fun being able to work with a choir and band together and it came together really well on the day! I’ve never felt more proud of a performance before.

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